Trail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication Date: June 2018
Review by Rebecca Diem
I’ll start by saying I consider Trail of Lightning a must-read. This is a deeply personal, action-packed tale of redemption. In an apocalyptic world where legendary monsters walk the earth and coffee is scarce—horrors!—Roanhorse has given us a monster-slayer outcast plagued by trauma and struggling to find her place among her people. And she does so in a way that will leave you shaken, breathless, and proud. This is a story for fans of Jessica Jones or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
Trail of Lightning, the first book in Roanhorse’s The Sixth World series, follows Maggie Hoskie, a Dinétah monster hunter with serious trust issues, living on what was once the Navajo reservation and is now one of the few remaining havens from an apocalyptic flood. She has supernatural strength granted to her by her clan powers and a knack for killing, honed by legendary demi-god Neizghani. But, she has been abandoned by her teacher and now struggles with the terrible task of trying to protect her people from the whims of tricksters and the evils of dark witchcraft. In addition to battling monsters, she also faces prejudice and distrust from the other residents of Dinétah. When she encounters a new kind of monster while searching for a missing girl, she reluctantly teams up with Kai Arviso, a troubled healer, to seek out the answers they need to stop the killings.
There’s so much that can be said of the story itself, but it’s the little details that make the world crafted by Roanhorse seem real–like the precious coffee tin, or the cantankerous, hooch-fueled Chevy, or the smell of ozone after a lightning strike. It’s also that, despite crafting one of the most believable apocalyptic settings I’ve read in a while, Roanhorse has infused her tale with hope and renewal:
I remember the first time I saw the Wall. I had expected something dull and featureless. A fifty-foot-high mountain of gray concrete, barbed wire lining the top like in some apocalyptic movie. But I had forgotten that the Diné had already suffered their apocalypse over a century before. This wasn’t our end. This was our rebirth.
They say the hataalii worked hand in hand with the construction crews, and for every brick that was laid, a song was sung. Every laith, a blessing given. And the Wall took on a life of its own. When the workmen came back the next morning, it was already fifty feet high. In the east it grew as white shell. In the south, turquoise. The west, pearlescent curves of abalone, and the north, the blackest jet (p.23).
With Trail of Lightning, Roanhorse has crafted a tale of beauty and strength, the story of someone who works hard and dares to give a damn when she could easily walk away. Maggie’s trauma is real, and so are her triumphs. I am deeply invested in her journey, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for The Sixth World series.
Verdict: BUY IT.
Roanhorse is one of the brightest new voices in science fiction, and has earned well-deserved accolades for her short fiction, including the 2018 Hugo Award for “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™” and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I was introduced to her work after her Nebula nomination, and immediately knew I needed Trail of Lightning. I now count her among my favourite authors. I want many more books like this one to fill my shelves!